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We are exploring online and off how to use a mix of media to Live Well in the Digital Age. David Wilcox and Drew Mackie

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David Wilcox

Let’s talk about #goodforlondon to make sense of civil society, a networked city and #thewayahead

3 min read

Signups are going well for our event tomorrow about London as a networked and neighbourly city, creating a Living Lab to help reframe civil society, using tech to support social action.

It’s about all of those things, and I suspect each idea resonates with different interests. I think that’s a problem, and we need an idea and a tag everyone can understand. How about ?

Behind the rather abstract terms I’ve been using so far in these posts is the idea that we need to rethink how people and organisations doing good cooperate and collaborate in the networked age, where the Internet is changing so much about the way we lead our lives, and the relationships, interests and activities we can develop.

The exploration we are launching tomorrow, with the London Council for Voluntary Action, aims to complement a much bigger exercise by London funders, LVSC and Greater London Volunteering.

That initiative, called The Way Ahead, was prompted in part by the fact that traditional ways of doing good through charities, voluntary organisations and community groups face funding cuts by public bodies, who now focus on contracting.

In addition the future of organisations like LVSC and GVA is in doubt. Fresh thinking is needed on the way that the whole system operates, from individual citizens working with others to improve neighbourhoods and support each other, to borough-level councils for voluntary service, and London-wide networks of interests and support.

The Way Ahead report calls the system “civil society infrastructure”, and I’ve picked up the term as well. I’ve found it fine for professionals in the field, but that it doesn’t engage people’s interest more widely.

The one idea people can relate to is doing social good. That may be volunteering, mutual support, getting together around causes and local problems - ideally while having some fun and making new connections.

Social good may also be companies operating ethically, councils designing services with citizens - and of course the many existing groups and organisations in the community and voluntary sectors, and social enterprises. But not just them.

So how about “social good” … and doing things that are good in London, and good for London.

David Wilcox

Exploring #thewayahead for London as a networked and neighbourly city: January 10 event

3 min read

We are expanding the agenda for our event on January 10, which is looking at the role of technology and network thinking in London's civil society.

We all know that the digital revolution is here, but how do we make best use of that for social action in London? This is the challenge that motivates us.

On the 10th we'll be demonstrating our ideas for a Living Lab, that uses the fictional London borough of Slipham to explore how citizens and organisations can collaborate in the digital age. More on that in my previous post.

... signup here for the January 10 event ...

In addition we’ll share further plans for a three-month exploration into what it would take to make London a better networked city, in which interest groups and citizens find it easier to connect with each other, with public bodies and others who may offer support for social action.

As I explained earlier our plans aim to complement and extend the The Way Ahead - Civil Society at the Heart of London - a major initiative by a partnership of London Funders, London Voluntary Service Council and Greater London Volunteering, which emphasises that Londoners and their communities should be at the heart of any future plans, through processes of co-production.

At an event on January 31 we'll explore how to apply lessons of network leadership and social learning to civil society with international specialist Harold Jarche. He's been described as “a keen subversive of the last century’s management and education models”.

Then on February 22 we'll be running an event in City Hall bringing together ideas from local and London-wide perspectives.

In between we'll organise smaller meetups, and blog about the practicalities of cooperation and collaboration for anyone doing good in the networked, digital age.

So far Drew Mackie and I have been working with a small group, and particularly Matt Scott at LVSC. They are providing initial funding. From the January 10 event we aim to form a larger core group for the exploration, with task groups focussing on specific issues.

You can signup here for our January 10 event. If you are interested in the later events, and the overall exploration, but can't make it on January 10, do get in touch - david@socialreporter.com or @davidwilcox on Twitter. We'll shortly have a new networkedcity blog and other ways to join in.

David Wilcox

Help us co-design a Living Lab to show #thewayahead for London's civil society

9 min read

Check the next post here for an update on how the Living Lab will be part of a wider exploration into making London a networked and neighbourly city

The organisations that fund London's community groups and charities, and support volunteers, are exploring how best to make the capital a better place to live and work at a time of big funding cuts and population growth.

Here's how you can contribute ideas, in a modest way, on the role of technology and network thinking in enabling citizens to play a part - something so far missing from future plans. Read on for some background and our ideas for a Living Lab ...

... or signup here for our January 10 event

In summary: we are going to develop the fictional London borough of Slipham, showing the relationships between citizens and organisations.

Then we'll play through how a mix of new approaches can help them create a better life in the digital age. It will build on a workshop we ran with the Centre for Ageing Better

The Way Ahead - Civil Society at the Heart of London - a report from a partnership of London Funders, London Voluntary Service Council and Greater London Volunteering - emphasises that Londoners and their communities should be at the heart of any future plans, through processes of co-production:

Co-production is where Londoners work with those in power, and each other, in a way in which all voices are heard equally in developing a shared understanding of need and in crafting solutions to make London a better place.

But as I reported here the funders and other organisations face a challenge in explaining civil society**, and moving from high-level ideas towards practical ways of putting co-production into practice. In order to work, co-production has to engage citizens, businesses and public bodies as well as community and voluntary organisations.

One further issue is that there was no significant mention of the role of digital technology in The Way Ahead. That's now recognised, and there is a group working on data sharing. In addition, as I wrote here, Drew Mackie and I are working with one of the partners, the London Voluntary Service Council, to explore how people can use new methods for social action.

This could range from people using their smartphones to connect with friends, family and other interests - and groups and organisations - to campaigning and organising, and to the sort of innovations listed by NESTA and the Nominet Trust.

Digital technology, and the networks it enables, are important to the civil society organisations themselves. It may put them out of business - as has happened in so many other areas. As one group, the Community Sector Coalition wrote recently in a position paper:

The Voluntary & Community Sector as a collection of national bodies is over. Ministers and policy ‘think tanks’ have largely concluded that they can do without it, that social action can be generated through other means. We are proposing to embrace that shift towards independent action: increasingly a new generation is using digital technology, demanding and influencing change and which takes place increasingly outside of the voluntary sector and formal coalitions.

Clusters and groupings can mobilise almost instantaneously to take collective action. In such a world we don’t need a sector, an organisation or even an alliance of organisations to move forward: we only require, the spaces, platforms, networks and technology to mobilise and take action.

There is an issue about the infrastructure to support this new direction. But the agenda cannot come from Government - it has to be a critical and reflective eco-system, created by us all acting together with a shared and emergent vision. This is something we have to do for ourselves and our suggestion is to focus on building networks, alliances and active critical spaces. We propose we do this together in a non- hierarchical way. We can co-ordinate our own organising by working together, neither above nor below one another.

This provocative scenario may overstate the ability of people to self-organise - but it’s interesting that it comes from people rooted in the community sector - not technology futurists.

It seems to me there are three challenges for The Way Ahead: explaining the idea of "civil society" to those outside the community and voluntary sector, and engaging them in change; bringing technology and network thinking into the mix; and demonstrating how people might "co-produce" creative solutions locally in future.

One way to do that would be to develop a local demonstration in a London borough. But that would take years to organise - and The Way Ahead will be reaching conclusions in a few months.

So instead we are develop a simulation, which we call a Living Lab. We have created the basis for the fictional London Borough of Slipham, with characters, organisations, and a map of relationships. We are assembling a menu of ideas for making Slipham a great place to live and work - if the various interests will cooperate and collaborate to co-produce some solutions.

You can see here how we ran a Living Lab workshop in May with the Centre for Ageing Better to play through ways to help older citizens connect with services and opportunities in Slipham.

On January 10 we are inviting anyone interested to join us in planning how we can further develop and run the simulation, with several aims.

  • to show what civil society means by creating a cast of characters and telling the stories of their lives in a fictional by realistic setting

  • exploring what challenges and opportunities they will face - and how digital technology, together with existing well-tried methods, can help

  • engaging London funders in the discussion, to help them consider where they might invest in future

  • creating a model for co-designing local solutions that could be useful in later phases of The Way Ahead.

We have organised an event on the evening of January 10 at Newspeak House, designed to brief people interested in social tech for good on our plans. We'll explain the simulation, and invite some ideas on how it might work.

Here's one scenario we might look at - connecting older people, those with disabilities, and others with special needs and interests with new opportunities.

If you are interested, but can’t make it on the 10th, drop a comment on this post, email me at david@socialreporter.com or tweet to @davidwilcox. I post here later other ways to engage online, and news of other events.

We’ll also be experimenting with an online version of Slipham, with a network map, and presence for groups created with the interests.me system. We hope to work with the five theme groups working on The Way Ahead. I’ve already been to three, and terrific ideas are developing.

What's in it for anyone who gets involved with the simulation? One idea we are considering is setting up a coop to develop Slipham, so that we can bid to sponsors and funders on two fronts: to enhance the simulation, and also to back "for real" innovation we may have for using digital technology and network thinking in civil society.

How will it turn out? We don't know. That's the challenge and excitement of co-production.

Links

** The Way Ahead report offers this definition of civil society:

Civil society is where people take action to improve their own lives or the lives of others and act where government or the private sector don’t. Civil society is driven by the values of fairness and equality, and enables people to feel valued and to belong. It includes formal organisations such as voluntary and community organisations, informal groups of people who join together for a common purpose and individuals who take action to make their community a better place to live.

Globalnet21 and London Futurists are organising a very relevant event on Ethics and the Digital Age on January 11 2017.

  • Should the widespread disruptions of the digital age alter our conceptions about morality and ethics?
  • Which ethical principles from previous eras should we continue to uphold (perhaps with extra urgency)?
  • Are there new considerations and realisations that we would want to inform our decisions about the future of technology and the future of humanity?
  • In such discussions, what should our starting point be?

You can find out more and register here

David Wilcox

Why #thewayahead for London civil society needs better communications and engagement

5 min read

This Storify of tweets compiled by Superhighways, and a photo report, show the breadth of discussion at last week's event on the future of London's civil society **.

The event was organised by London Voluntary Service Council, Greater London Volunteering and London Funders to take forward their report The Way Ahead - Civil Society and the Heart of London.

Effective action could involve everyone from individual citizens to groups, charities, councils and business. The big challenge now is not just understanding and explaining the report, but offering ways for people to play a part.

As I wrote earlier, I'm working with LVSC on how Londoners can in future better connect with each other, engage in local activities and find support.

Drew Mackie and I will be looking at ways in which people and groups can develop their personal and community networks, using a range of methods including new technology.

We hope this will make a useful contribution to The Way Ahead - and so I was glad to join in the communications group at the event, led by Steve Wyler.

Communications

Here's notes I've transcribed from the photo report:

  • recognising different phases - e.g. currently a development and engagement phase
  • comms will matter throughout implementation
  • development phase likely to continue beyond March 2016 - urgent point about producing a succinct and tailored set of propositions that sets out The Way Ahead recommendations for different stakeholders (e.g. messages for business will be different from those for frontline groups)
  • communication needs to be more than broadcast, needs engagement and enabled contributions (some could be to thematic groups, but also need something beyond this - website but visuals not just text, plus online networking forum)
  • roadshow events, either on local areas or on thematic issues, to talk to people about what this would mean in practice chairs of theme groups and system change group need to model new forms of communication
  • need system of communications that work well for frontline volunteers, activists and others, not just digital and not just those already in the room

The group report on peer-to-peer learning was very relevant too:

  • leadership and learning important as it underpins everything in The Way Ahead
  • need to be proactive in developing our leadership programmes underway, but information not being shared between people and organisations
  • need sector-specific opportunities, but important to have cross-sector work to learn and grow (e.g. time banking between people and organisations)
  • need to recognise that competition can stand in the way of sharing ideas

The communications recommendations apply mainly to The Way Ahead programme, while peer-to-peer learning is about what happens next. In addition we had a useful discussion about the realities of day-to-day communications in community and voluntary organisations, and the need to offer a mix of methods from face-to-face through phone calls and print to online.

As well as external communications, there will first be the challenge of facilitating conversations between the five thematic groups now established:

  • Co-production
  • Data: collating, analysing and sharing data about the needs and strengths of Londoners
  • Triage and connecting: local, specialist and regional support organisations
  • Voice and campaigning: civil society needs to be fully engaged in decision-making on London- wide issues,
  • Consistent commissioning and funding for support

The main recommendation in the The Way Ahead is to promote and develop co-production, by which the review team mean:

Co-production is where Londoners work with those in power, and each other, in a way in which all voices are heard equally in developing a shared understanding of need and in crafting solutions to make London a better place.

All this suggests to me that The Way Ahead will only succeed if everyone concerned - from funders to councils, groups and organisations, and citizens - can talk to each other about what's involved in making their London a better place to live.

This involves creating some communication systems that embrace new and older methods, internally and externally.

I know that The Way Ahead team will be launching a new web site, and planning other forms of communication.

At the moment The Way Ahead reports are pretty heavy pdfs, so I think a simple explainer would be a useful start, covering for example:

  • What is civil society
  • How does it operate
  • What isn’t working - for citizens, organisations, funders
  • What changes are coming - whether through funding cuts or external forces
  • What are the key ideas in The Way Ahead
  • Who needs to be involved in co-production and other changes
  • What might be involved in making changes

... which would lead to "here's what part you might play".

At the end of the event facilitator George Gawlinski remarked that for change to happen The Way Ahead needed to be a movement.

If so, the challenge is not just how to promote the messages of The Way Ahead - but how to offer people ways to get involved, in terms that make sense to them. The event last week provided the energy and insights to do that.

** The Way Ahead report offers this definition:

“Civil society is where people take action to improve their own lives or the lives of others and act where government or the private sector don’t. Civil society is driven by the values of fairness and equality, and enables people to feel valued and to belong. It includes formal organisations such as voluntary and community organisations, informal groups of people who join together for a common purpose and individuals who take action to make their community a better place to live.”

David Wilcox

Exploring #thewayahead for London's civil society infrastructure in the digital age

2 min read

I'm starting a fascinating piece of work exploring how Londoners can in future better connect with each other, engage in local activities and find support.

Drew Mackie and I will be looking at ways in people and groups can develop their personal and community networks, using a range of methods including new technology.

We are working with the London Voluntary Service Council, who are partners in a far-reaching review with London Funders, called The Way Ahead. It is looking at the way community and voluntary organisations will operate in future - but as you can see from their report, the emphasis in on the citizen.

In a blog post David Warner, of London Funders, writes:

Unfortunately civil society organisations do not always recognize that focusing on communities’ strengths is an important step in enabling people to take control of their own lives. Organisations work to their own agendas and bring their own world-views. Often the priority seems to be more to sustain organisations than to enable communities.

A better model for doing good …

... means working with Londoners to assess need and taking that as the starting point for helping communities to build confidence and self-reliance. The Way Ahead consequently emphasis co-production - promoting cooperation and collaboration, and designing the future with citizens.

In our work we'll try and offer some insights into what civil society infrastructure mighty look like in the digital age. Today I'm at a conference to plan the next steps on The Way Ahead, and will be tweeting with the hashtag .